I’ve spent some time on this blog telling you about my grandfather and the letters he used to write me. Today, feeling busy and a bit uninspired, I thought it would be fitting to share one of his letters that most inspires me with you.
This letter begins with a page and a half on the study of optics – my grandfather was a teacher first, and though I love every word of that artfully presented science lesson, we’ll pick up on page two of this letter.
Dear Karen (it’s 1994, so my name still has an “e”… in three years, I’ll change to a “y”)
…What I was going to write to you about before the spoons came up was your poems. Now having a copy of all of them, I am impressed all over again. It’s hard to believe these are the poems of a sixth grader. They are excellent. I like best the one that expresses the thoughts of a sixth grader. It shows a recognition of things that an adult cannot imagine an eleven year old thinking about, or if they do think about them, they are unable to convey those thoughts as you have done. I think it should be published. Surely there are magazines for kids that use such materials. As I recall, your mom was going to look into that possibility. Has she found anything?
Recently there was a TV interview with the author of a book of poetry called Deadline Poetry. The title had to do with the nature of the poems, political satires that were written about current news and therefore subject to publication deadlines. It made me think of some of your limericks, which were not included in the poems you printed for us. It gave me an idea for something you might like to try that, if done cleverly, could be fun for you and your whole class at school. Could you, between now and the end of the school term, come up with a series of limericks about little incidents that have taken place during the school year? Could you produce a personal limerick for each person in your class? Perhaps there might be a combination of the two. It would be a priceless 6th grade souvenir for each of your classmates. It would also give you practice in developing a means of communication that could mean years of fun for you and your friends, and even the possibility of profit if your future work proves salable.
If you were to attempt this project, you would have to be very careful about personal feelings and be sure not to offend anyone. A satire, which often involves holding someone up to scorn or criticism, would not be appropriate. At the same time, a funny incident in which someone made a silly mistake might be recalled in a limerick IF the person is big enough to laugh at himself or herself and see the humor of it instead of being embarrassed by it. If you think there is such a person and situation, you might write the poem and show it only to the person- nobody else at all – and ask if it would be okay to use it, or if they would prefer that it not be used. That way you might be able to take advantage of memorable moments without hurting anyone. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” should be your guiding principle.
I said above that writing these limericks would “give you practice in developing a means of communication that could mean years of fun for you and your friends.” I was thinking of Roy Dunton, a good friend of ours who is an expert in this sort of thing. You have met Mr. Dunton several times. Once we walked from your house on Baron Drive to where he lived in Los Gatos. Roy entertained us at parties with his poems. Some were his own fictional creations about garden hoes and flowers that grow upside down. Others were about people in the group; some of these, if I recall correctly, were in limerick format. Anytime somebody moved away, Roy had a funny poem of some length about the departing family that was read at a going away party.
Roy had fun doing these things, and he brought laughs and entertainment to all of us for many years. It appears to me that you may have some of this rare kind of talent that he has. If so, you can enjoy it and give enjoyment to others too. In fact, if you’re interested, I am sure Roy would be happy to show you some of his material, talk with you about what he does and how he does it, and offer helpful suggestions. Incidentally, we have already shown some of your work to Roy, and he was amazed to realize that it was done by an eleven year old person.
One of the great tragedies of individual human experience is to have a talent to bring pleasure to others and fail to use it. You have the talent. Go for it; use it.
Every 6th grader should have such a letter – a letter that matter-of-factly states their talents and also the responsibility they have to treat others kindly, a letter that seems to believe they can accomplish anything through hard work but will be equally valuable if they fail, a letter that reeks of love and leaves very little room for excuse. I hope someone has written you such a letter. I hope you will write one someday.